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News > Latin America

70 Lives Would Have Been Lost to Save Bolivia Minister: Official

  • Minister Rodolfo Illanes was captured and killed by miners on August 25 in Panduro, Bolivia.

    Minister Rodolfo Illanes was captured and killed by miners on August 25 in Panduro, Bolivia. | Photo: Ministerio de Gobierno de Bolivia

Published 7 September 2016

Authorities have identified the miners who kidnapped and killed Rodolfo Illanes.

The first official hearing into the death of government minister Rodolfo Illanes began with a minute’s silence for the six victims of the mining dispute.

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Two weeks ago Bolivia’s former deputy interior minister was kidnapped and beaten to death by striking cooperative mineworkers in Panduro, 100 miles from the administrative capital La Paz.

Minister of the Presidency Carlos Romero and Mining Minister Cesar Navarro were questioned by deputies in the legislative assembly over their handling of events leading up to the death. They responded to 12 questions set by the Senate about the events that took place on August 25.

Miners Severino Ichota, Fermin Mamani, Pedro Mamani and Ruben Aparaya Pillco died from bullet wounds. A fifth miner, Freddy Ambrose Rojas, lost his life after he mishandled sticks of dynamite.

When Romero was asked why the authorities didn’t intervene sooner to rescue Rodolfo Illanes, he admitted they were outnumbered by the striking miners. Romero stated that if they had launched a rescue attempt it would have cost at least 70 lives. He also told deputies that the conflict has left 242 policemen wounded.

"There were 12,560 miners against 2,500 police officers, that was the difference," said Romero. He explained that thousands of police officers were mobilized from six state departments.

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The minister said the fallout from the strike has cost the state millions of dollars. "The damages are calculated at more than 45 million Boliviano's (US$6.5 million)," Romero explained.

Romero also said that on the afternoon of August 25, the kidnappers of the former deputy minister asked the police not to advance and they agreed to their conditions in the hope that it would save his life.

The conflict between the government and the mining cooperatives began in early August when the striking miners blockaded several main highways over changes in mining legislation.

Law 149, enacted on August 19 maintained labor rights but challenged direct contracts between miner cooperatives and transnational mining giants, instead requiring state involvement.

Miners rejected the law, demanding the government loosen environmental standards and allow mining cooperatives to continue signing contracts with private companies to increase mining opportunities.

Following the death of Illanes, the government announced a crackdown on the cooperatives saying contracts signed between private companies and the cooperatives would be placed under state control.

Navarro told deputies the government has a deep respect for those cooperatives that abide by the universal principles of the industry, such as the equitable redistribution of profits generated by their mining activities. "We have admiration for thousands of colleagues, men and women, each of them making a single sacrifice in their daily work," he emphasized.

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Navarro outlined to deputies that there was no justification for the blockade of roads that resulted in the death of Illanes and five miners.

In his view, the miners demonstrated "dual behavior" in opposition to changes in the industry. Navarro showed the assembly documents signed in 2015 between the mining federation and the government, showing they had been in favor of changes in mining legislation.

Bolivia's mining sector is dominated by 120,000 miners working in around 1,700 cooperatives, who have received tax concessions and other benefits from the government in recent years.

The district attorney of La Paz, Edwin White, confirmed that authorities have identified the miners who kidnapped and killed Rodolfo Illanes. White refused to say how many people are involved and did not release their names because the investigation is ongoing.

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